“Why don’t you have a seat,” he tells me, gesturing to the two chairs in front of his desk.
It’s the reminder I need to shock my brain back into focus. Finally. Sticking my chin in the air, I make sure I sound firm—or as firm as any woman can after she’s just been caught, held and caressed by her boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. “I don’t think that will be necessary. I’m just here to pick up my paycheck.”
He lifts his brows then, a quick up and down motion that makes my belly flutter. “Sit down, Aria.” He sounds accommodating but at the same time, I know an order when I hear one. I want to object on general principle—the woman I am now doesn’t follow orders well at all, but I need that money. And a not terrible evaluation. Which is why I bend my knees and sink slowly, painfully into the chair.
He closes the door and I expect him to circle his desk, to sit in the huge, imposing chair that faces the one I’m currently sitting in. But instead, he drops down onto the chair next to me before reaching into his pocket and handing me an envelope.
“I believe this is what you came for.”
I nod without bothering to open it. Instead, I slide it into my purse and move to stand. His hand flashes out, rests gently on my arm as he applies just enough pressure to keep me in my seat.
Heat rushes through me from the contact, my nipples peaking despite my determination to keep this professional. He smiles then, a dark curving of his lips that sends shivers of electricity through me. That makes my body tremble and my breathing erratic.
I shrink back against the chair—a move that’s totally not me—and try to figure out what the hell is going on. He’s not threatening me, there’s nothing predatory or particularly sexual in the way he’s looking at me, the way he’s touching me. And yet my body is lit up like the Strip at midnight, my every cell sparking at nothing more than a casual touch from him.
I don’t get it. I don’t understand why I’m responding like this to Sebastian Caine when I’ve never responded anywhere near this quickly or strongly to another man. Oh, I’ve dated some. I was even engaged, and spent six months of that engagement trying to convince myself that I loved Carlo. And still I never responded like this, so quickly and desperately. Breasts aching, skin burning, sex growing wet.
The oddity of it is enough to keep me in my seat for long seconds, my eyes pinned to his as he stares back. But then fear sets in and I go to stand up again.
Again, he presses me gently but firmly back into the chair. He’s still smiling at me, his face schooled into perfectly pleasant lines. But his eyes are filled with a predatory interest he doesn’t even try to hide.
It worries me. Not because I think he’ll hurt me, not because I don’t think I can handle myself. But because I like it. I like the way he’s looking at me, like the way my body feels under his gaze.
Which is ridiculous—and why I come out swinging. “Look, I don’t know what you think is happening here, Mr. Caine—”
“Sebastian,” he says, interrupting my diatribe. “My name is Sebastian.”
“Good for you. I’m sure somebody probably cares about that, but I only came here for my paycheck and I have it now, so I’m leaving.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“I’d like you to stay for a few minutes and talk to me. See if we can get to the bottom of this mess.”
For a minute I think the mess he’s referring to is us, and the way we’re responding to each other. But then I realize he means the Russian whale, me being fired. And suddenly I’m afraid I’m in for a lot more than I bargained for. I was prepared to fight Richard Caine for my paycheck, was prepared for derision and annoyed condescension. I live every day of my life with it, after all, and have learned to control myself and those situations to the best of my ability.
But this. This is something different. There’s no arrogance on Sebastian’s face, no assumption that I’ll drop to my knees and blow him as a thank-you for my paycheck. No sense that he thinks he can screw me simply because he’s got a corner office on the top floor of Las Vegas’s hottest casino.
That’s not the scary part. I can handle that. Hell, I do handle it pretty much every day of my life. But the rest . . . the rest gets to me. The quiet respect, the obvious interest, the darkness that mirrors my own. I don’t know how to deal with those things, don’t know how I’m supposed to respond. I’m off-kilter, confused, searching for answers when I feel like I don’t even know what questions to ask.
Maybe that’s why I stay instead of running out of here as fast as my feet can carry me.
Because I want to find out—both the questions and the answers.